By Michelle Nichols
N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – The U.S. envoy to the United Nations arrived in Chad on Wednesday to meet Sudanese refugees fleeing ethnic and sexual violence in Darfur, which he described as “remembering” 20 years of atrocities. before Washington declared genocide.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is a member of the cabinet of President Joe Biden, is to visit Chad’s border with Darfur in western Sudan to highlight the worsening conflict and the growing humanitarian crisis.
War broke out in Sudan on the 15th of the fourth month – four years after the former president of a country, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted from a rebellion. The tension between the army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which organized a coup in 2021, erupted into conflict over the plan to transition to a civilian government.
“We have definitely reached the level of the atrocities that are being committed and it is very reminiscent of what we saw happen in 2004 that led to the decision of genocide,” said Thomas-Greenfield before arriving at Chad.
“We are hearing from women who have been gang-raped over and over again, villages are fighting, there are aerial photos showing many graves. The signs are there,” he said.
In the early 2000s the UN estimated some 300,000 people were killed in Darfur when the “Janjaweed” forces – which were formed by the RSF – helped the army put down a rebellion by mainly non-Arab groups. The International Criminal Court wants Sudanese leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.
“Once again, Darfur is descending into an abyss without mercy or hope,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement. “Citizens are being trapped, targeted, raped and murdered. It’s illegal and it’s horrible.”
Thomas-Greenfield first visited Chad’s border with Darfur in 2004 as a senior State Department official – the same year Washington described the violence there as a genocide.
“I went before the genocide was announced, but saw all the evidence that genocide was happening,” he said. “I have witnessed that before, having gone into the refugee camps in Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo) after Rwanda and seeing the suffering in the eyes of the people, the terror in their eyes.”
A genocide took place in Rwanda in 1994 when the majority of Hutu extremists in power killed the minority Tutsis and Hutu representatives in a hundred days.
‘Race Against Time’
The United Nations says that since Sudan’s war began in April, some 380,000 refugees – mostly women and children – have fled to Chad. Hundreds of thousands more have fled to the Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has appealed for $1 billion to help provide aid and protection to more than 1.8 million people expected to flee Sudan this year. About 7.1 million people are displaced within the country, according to the United Nations Organization for Migration.
Griffiths said that those in Sudan who have managed to escape the violence now face starvation.
“More than 60 percent of people in West Darfur are food insecure, as is more than half of the population in East and South Darfur,” Griffiths said. “We are in a race against the clock.”
In recent weeks the United Nations has been able to send aid to West Darfur from Chad and has aid trucks ready to reach other parts of the region, but said “unrelenting attacks ” is preventing them from reaching the people in need.
“The people of Darfur are being held in a situation that is close to totalitarianism. The message is urgent: Stop the fighting and let us pass,” Griffiths said.
In Sudan the UN says that half of the country’s 49 million people need help and is appealing for $2.6 billion – so far, it has secured only 26% of this amount. Washington is the top donor, followed by the European Commission, Germany and Canada.
Fighting throughout Sudan has caused a “humanitarian disaster,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council last week in a report seen by Reuters.
“Growing ethnic mobilization and an increase in ethnically motivated attacks could lead to full-scale civil war, with potentially even more devastating impact on the Sudanese people, the region and beyond,” Guterres wrote.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)